Her name is Yoshimi, she’s a blackbelt in karate


Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another” Carl Sagan, Cosmos (2002)

The final report was published this week on learning from the Named Social Worker for adults with learning disabilities pilots.  The key finding, just over 10 years since Putting People First was published, is that named workers are helping in putting people at the heart of social work.

Having been involved in both stages of the pilots over the last two years, it feels like this is a small but important outcome.  Verification that relational approaches secure better outcomes when backed up by legally literate social work case based reasoning which upholds the inherent dignity of all human beings.  The best outcomes, however come when the social worker sees their role as being one of fighting to uphold the person’s human rights and secure the adjustments they need to their environment and social networks.  These social workers see themselves as being armed with the power of justice and understand it is their job to wield their power with care in defense of the person so that their voice is heard, their wishes and feelings understood, and they are able to regain control and dignity in their lives.  Social workers who know when to use their power and when not to do so.

To quote Lady Hale:

“45. [it is] axiomatic that people with disabilities, both mental and physical, have the same human rights as the rest of the human race… This flows inexorably from the universal character of human rights, founded on the inherent dignity of all human beings.” “Cheshire West“ Supreme Court Ruling, (2014)

Our learning is that this isn’t a special “named” social work role, this is a roll all social workers should want to embrace.  Social workers are natural agitators, advocates, argumentors.  Making the case for social justice for learning disabled people is in DNA of social work.  rebalancing systemic inequality is what social work was designed to do.  As argued by @vasilios_ social work is by nature activist and radical.  The named social worker pilots have provided further learning that rights-based practice is who social workers are.  And that the best outcomes for people are secured by practitioners who confidently embrace this aspect of their role.

Easy Read Version

This blog is about people with learning disabilities having access to their own, named social worker.

The Department of Health wanted to find out if this is good thing. They asked local authorities to take part in the Named Social Worker project.

We got help from self-advocacy groups called Lead the Way and Bradford Talking Media.

We wanted to be part of this project because we want to improve the way social workers work with people with learning disabilities.

We think that social workers control the lives of people with learning disabilities too much.

We believe in the social model of disability. The social model says that people are disabled because the world is not accessible enough.

We think that people with learning disabilities are not treated fairly.

We are not happy that people with learning disabilities get put in long stay hospitals. This happens because staff think they are a risk to themselves or other people.

Social workers often try to protect people with learning disabilities from risk. This means that people do not get to make choices for themselves.

People with learning disabilities should be allowed to make their own decisions. Social workers and staff should not stop people making their own choices even if they disagree with them.

We think that people’s families should be listened to better. They should be helped to get support in the community.

When families do ask for help, their loved should not be sent to a care home or hospital. This is too restrictive.

We think that people are kept in hospitals and units for too long. Long term care does not help people.

We want more to be done to get people back home.

We think that social workers should always think about Human Rights. They should help people and not just tell them what to do.

Social workers should give advice and help people to access support. They should tell people what is available in the community.

We hope that this project will improve the way social workers support people with learning disabilities.


The milkmen of human kindness


Firstly, if you haven’t read Mark Nearys fantastic book ‘Where Have All the Milkmen Gone’ then we think that’s a good place to start. Mark totally gets it when it comes to social work for Steven. He doesn’t want someone who thinks they know Steven and Mark better than Steven and Mark know themselves. He doesn’t want an admin officer for a social worker or someone who can broker care (although he does want the awful bureaucracy removing!). Mark doesn’t want someone who can interpret other professionals jargon. Mark isn’t looking for a mate for him or Steven. Nor is he looking for someone to relay decisions made by the great and good at panels in locked away towers. Mark wants someone alongside Steven. Someone batting for him. Someone who when Mark isn’t there is absolutely going to advocate for his sons wishes, feelings values and beliefs in a way Mark knows Steven wants. Crucially, Mark and others, want someone on behalf of the state (Local Authorities  or NHS – it shouldn’t matter) who totally get and love the fact that Mark and Steven love each other. The thought of standing in the way of their relationship should be as abhorrent as the feelings generated when you hear Mark talk about those who separated Steven from his dad. Whether it’s the principles of the MCA, the Articles in the UNCRPD or the Well Being principle in the Care Act, the overriding ethos is that the state should not interfere with the family life. Our role is to promote it, protect it and if possible to enhance it… And then get out of the way very quickly!

However it still looks like we are a million miles away. More evidence is coming to light of the routinised institutional nature of human rights abuses which are taking place in the name of so called care and treatment.  #underlockandkey was the latest in a series of reports on what is becoming an all too familiar story of families heart breaking distress.  There is an ever expanding list which is compelling and which identifies consistent themes including:

So, we change the size of our institutions from big asylum to small group home, and the uniforms are all but gone but the practice is frozen in time.  We continue to debate about how it isn’t enough to just build new types of institutions  – and we agree that a bigger shift is needed in mindsets if learning disabled people are to genuinely experience their full range of their human rights. Medical training still appears to over emphasise that clinical autonomy is the more important in decision making than the views of the person.  This has to change. Social Work training is grounded in human rights and individual autonomySocoal Work could potentially be the challenge needed. Since the early 1980s we’ve been talking about Social Workers becoming a named person providing advice and advocacy for people.

So many people have a named social worker and have done for years. But what’s changed?

Whether we are named Social Workers or not we are in the heart of a culture which families who are brave enough to speak to the press about their experiences are telling us is immersed in the ways of the old institutions. We no longer chase the doctors coattails, walk along wards or dormitories in large Victorian buildings but are we still effectively perceived by people and their families as still prowling the corridors, ensuring compliance and often crushing the hope they have of a loving family life.

The  Department of Health’s vision for adult social work  is the most recent attempt t0 define a role for a Named Social Worker. 6 Local Authorities are piloting the role as describe here – https://lynromeo.blog.gov.uk/tag/named-social-workers/

Social Care Institute for Excellence are reporting here on the outcomes so far from the pilot http://www.scie.org.uk/social-work/named-social-worker.  It is still early days,  but from our involvement this feels like something important is being tested.

Social work is at a crossroads. What do we want the Named Social Worker to be? More importantly, what do people with a learning disability and their families and supporters want their Named Social Worker to be?

Self-advocates have told us that they want their Named Social Worker to be there for them. They didn’t see the social workers in the heroic role of fighting medics to prevent admission to an ATU. People with a learning disability that we support don’t know what an ATU is right up until the point where the options have been exhausted, the ‘risks’ seemingly too great and the door locks behind them. The people we spoke to wanted a social worker to be, well, a social worker. The kind of social workers we think social workers want to be; a really good one. One who can speak about love without feeling embarrassed.

For ‘Named Social Workers’ read ‘good Social Workers’ or moreover,  Social Workers who are legitimised to be exactly what they have trained to be compassionate, kind and on the person’s side. Social Work has a unique role and position within the system and it is designed to be the safeguard against people being marginalised. Social work is steeped in an education of social justice, empowerment, human rights and an unequivocal and unashamed approach to helping people to remain as independent as possible and close to the loving support of their families and friends. Ensuring that is our unique role. The only safeguard that is needed is to keep people safe from the system intervening into family life. Whether social workers are ‘named’ or not, they need to be really good social workers regardless.